Camp Milton Historic Preserve protects and interprets what remains of what was once a bustling military encampment near Baldwin during the Civil War. In fact, it was the Confederacy’s largest and strongest field fortification in Florida. First manned in 1862 for Governor Milton, it continued to enjoy a strategic position near the junction of Florida’s major railroads throughout the Civil War.
Length: 2.4 miles
Lat-Lon: 30.3343, -81.8687
Type: network of spur trails
Fees / Permits: free
Restroom: at the junction with the Jacksonville-Baldwin Rail Trail
From Interstate 10 exit 351, Whitehouse, take Chaffee Rd north to US 90. Turn left and follow US 90 west for 1.3 miles to Halsema Rd. Turn right and drive north on Halsema Rd for 1.7 miles to the trailhead on the right.
From the parking area, follow the broad Trail Road straight ahead. It is flanked by oaks that will provide an avenue of shade as they grow. Cone-shaped concrete markers note the locations of campfires discovered, reminders of the nearly 8,000 soldiers that were stationed here.
The Earthworks Trail runs 0.7 miles out from the first trail junction across a boardwalk and into the forest along McGirts Creek. It’s here that it encircles earthworks built to protect the camp. Along this accessible spur trail, you’ll find many interpretive signs regards life during the Civil War and the strategic importance of this location.
When you return back to the Trail Road, turn right. Keep left at the next junction. This is the American Forest Trail, leading to a living time capsule of sorts that we’ve seen nowhere else. It’s an arboretum that recalls major figures and events from the Civil War.
Each of the trees in this arboretum were sprouted from a seed or cutting of a tree at a historically significant site such as a sycamore from the plantation where Robert E. Lee was born, or the honeylocust tree that stood closest to President Lincoln during his Gettysburg Address.
It’s an unusual way to tell the story of the Civil War while preserving the genetic heritage of those trees that survived the battles of more than 150 years ago. Many placards are duplicated multiple times in different places in the park, as multiple trees were grown from the same genetic stock. A good idea, as it’s obvious some didn’t do well in Florida soil.
Following the paved path through the arboretum, you’ll find one branch of it leading to the creek and a replica campaign bridge that “might have been here.” From it, you can see McGirts Creek, the water source for Camp Milton.
Return to the other branch of the trail, crossing a wetland and wandering through the hardwood forest to end up at the park’s restrooms at its connection with the Jacksonville-Baldwin Trail, where the ever-so strategic railroad ran during the Civil War.
Return back the way you came, but this time follow the Trail Road past the historic Harvey Farm. The farmhouse is not original to this location, but was moved here from Whitehouse Field for preservation. A reconstructed farmstead surrounds this original piece of Duval County history.
A full ramble of this accessible historic preserve will tally up 2.4 miles. Bicycles are welcome.